Thousands flee fighting in Syria to neighbouring Lebanon

Briefing Notes, 19 November 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 November 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Syria, an estimated 6,000 people have fled their homes in Qarah, making their way over the border into eastern Lebanon. Humanitarian partners have been on the ground in Lebanon since last Friday working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and local authorities to cope with this influx.

The spark for the displacement is the reported escalation in violence in Qarah and surrounding villages. Refugees have told us that they spent days living in underground shelters before deciding to flee. A family of ten told us they had crammed into a single car on Saturday evening to flee as the situation had become "unbearable".

Most of the newly arrived refugees are now in Arsal, in north-east Lebanon. Arsal, which lies not far from the border area, is home to a population of some 60,000 people, including already prior to the latest influx 20,000 registered refugees.

Some 100 families transited through Arsal to nearby villages including Jdeide, Fakeha and Al-Ain, while local authorities told us that approximately 300 families returned to Yabrud in Syria on Sunday.

UNHCR and its partners have contingency plans in place for these sudden movements and indeed for larger numbers should more cross. There are concerns that on-going violence in the vicinity of Qarah and central Qalamoun towns could force more to flee Syria into the already stretched east-Bekaa area.

Over 1,000 of the newly arrived Syrian families in Arsal have registered with the local municipality in the past three days and been provided with emergency assistance. This work is still on-going. The assistance includes food parcels, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.

Sheltering the large numbers of new arrivals remains a challenge. Newly arrived refugees have been directed to four temporary collective shelters in public halls and mosques. Up to 80 families have found shelter in informal settlements while others have set up makeshift dwellings in unfinished buildings or are staying with local families. None of these provide a long term option.

UNHCR with its partners is ready to provide further shelter options if the government approves land for use. In the meantime all is being done to ensure that the temporary locations are protected against the elements and provide some warmth to the refugees.

Access to clean water and sanitation is a concern. Partners are providing latrines and water tanks to alleviate this situation and have deployed mobile medical units which are providing immediate health services. The Ministry of Public Health and partners have provided vaccinations and Vitamin A supplements. Pregnant women and war-wounded refugees are also receiving immediate assistance.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Beirut, Roberta Russo on mobile +961 71 910 320
  • Dana Sleiman on mobile+961 3 827 323
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

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A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

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